Friday, June 19, 2009

A Maker does gardens

So, in keeping with our ethic of keeping our food as close to home as possible, Beth and I elected to put together a bit of a garden this year.

Rather than do it on the ground, as is more usual, I built some boxes up on stilts. Being the ever-resourceful scrap hound that I am, I found some really good sources for the material to make these boxes:
  • My work was clearing out a part of the factory and disposed of a demo dumpster FULL of various types of wood scrap. The bottoms of all the boxes came from some old shipping crates we no longer had a need for- they are rough-grade 1/2" plywood with a 2"x4" frame around the edge and one 2"x4" across the middle for extra support. 3'x4', pre-cut. Saved me a lot of effort and basically made the whole thing feasible.
  • The legs are largely made from scrap I found on the side of the road. Someone had done some concrete work and left the wood on the roadside for anyone to pick up. Warning: wood used for a concrete form takes on the fashion of concrete. It is insanely hard, will ruin your drill bits and saw blades, and is generally not worth the trouble.
  • Home Depot sells what they refer to as "cull lumber". It's typically on a cart at the back of the store, behind all the good wood. This is stuff that was damaged, warped, or otherwise undesirable. They pull it out, cut it into 4'-6' lengths, and sell it for half price or less. The price is nice if you don't need perfectly straight or pretty wood, and if you have a small car like ours, having it pre-cut (for free, instead of $0.25 per cut like they would normally charge) takes a lot of stress out of the transaction.
  • And, of course, Ikea. The picture to the left shows our bean box (hanging on the fence). The ladder above it is one side of a crib. Ikea sells "handyman's carts" periodically, which are basically all the bits and pieces of furniture that they don't think they can sell piecewise. For $15, you get one of their ginormous flatbed carts heaped above the level of the handles with things like this. The ladder structures in the picture below (against the garage) are bed base slats screwed together. The curvature of the slats holds the structure away from the wall so the cukes and zucchini can be more easily trained onto the ladder. I'm not sure what the structures on the middle two free-standing beds are, but they were $5 each and are almost exactly the width of the box, and have sturdy wire mesh with 4" spacing.

We may have gone a little crops-crazy. The left box above has six square feet of carrots, planted 16 to a square foot. The other half of the box is potatoes- Beth is trying a trick where you plant the potatoes and then keep covering the sprouts with an inch of soil everytime they pop up. The end result is supposedly a much thicker layer of potatoes beneath the surface. I'm afraid we're just going to end up with potatoes under six inches of soil, but it's worth the try. The right box is salad greens, chard, and turnips. I also tried replanting the roots from a bunch of lettuce from the Wedge and it took!
The right image shows the size of the raspberry patch- it was here when we moved in. The box has 10 winter squash plants- I'm hoping that we can train them to grow out in different directions from the box and just completely let them take over that side of the house. We got two types- queensland blue and Burgess' buttercup. They're both blue, pumpkiny squash that should store well. I'm hoping to get a dozen or so squash, and a cool room in the garage for them may be a future project.

The image to the right shows the main growing area. The fence in the background is overgrown with grapevines. No word yet on palatability but I'm hopeful. The box on the left has 12 tomato plants- 11 of them are small, yellow cherry tomatoes. The last one is the same as the three across the back of the next- Brandywine. We also have four San Marzanos, which make (supposedly) outstanding sauce. Against the wall, we've got cucumbers (of a large variety well suited for pickling) and zucchini. Most of the rest of those two boxes is full of onions (14 square feet, with four or five per), with three square feet of dill (OVERKILL) and one of leeks. At least four square feet are basil (I thought we planted six but it's only coming up in four), three of other assorted herbs (not coming along too well), and three are eggplant.
The tub on the ground has some bean plants and zucchini from the thinning out process- we'll have to figure out where to put those permanently, which means more construction. We also have a ground-level trough of strawberries and a small patch of rhubarb snuggled up on the other side of the steps.

All in all, we should have a lot of food, even if we only get half production out of this. Total cost was probably around $300. The largest single expenditures were screws and soil- we bought 2.5 yards of compost/soil mix for about $125, and that was a smidge too much.